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Tennessee Baseball’s Pitching Bounce Back Has Vols Sitting Pretty In Omaha

Photo by Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

OMAHA, Neb. — Things were looking dire for Tennessee baseball in the middle of the ninth inning of its College World Series opener against Florida State. Not only were the Vols staring down the barrel of another opening game loss but they had used six pitchers in the process, taxing some of their best arms.

The most radical change obviously came with what Tennessee did in the bottom of the ninth inning, scoring four runs to shock Florida State and move to the winner’s bracket. But the flip also occurred on the mound.

Look up just five innings of baseball later and Tennessee’s pitching had all of a sudden stabilized thanks to five innings of one run baseball from Drew Beam.

“Felt really good early on. Cal called a great game behind the plate,” Beam said on his first strong outing of the postseason. “We had pretty much everything going. I was just trusting with what he had game planned and we had game planned with and we were going with it. They put some good swings on balls, especially that ball to center field. Ensley made a really good catch. The defense played well behind me. That helped me out in some situations.”

Beam exited the game with Tennessee leading 4-1 but with two runners on-base and no one out in the sixth inning. Left-handed pitcher Kirby Connell entered and got out of the jam. The biggest moment coming when he picked off Anthony Donofrio for out number two.

“Just had a feeling that he was going to run,” Connell said of Donofrio, who has 19 stolen bases on the season. “Kind of looked up and saw he was leaning a little bit so thought I would give it a throw over there and then I picked my leg up and he takes off and I thought, okay, we’re doing it.”

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Connell got out of the inning and stranded a runner on third two pitches later, striking out Gavin Gallaher to keep Tennessee’s lead at three runs.

“It’s easing whenever I see Kirby coming out of the bullpen whenever I’m on the mound just because he’s been there and done it so many times,” Beam said. “I don’t know how many appearances he has in his career at Tennessee. I think it’s more than anybody else has ever had. He’s been there seeing anything and everything. I’m very comfortable handing the ball off to him.”

The left-handed reliever picked up three more outs for Tennessee in the seventh inning, allowing only a weakly hit infield single. It marked Connell’s ninth outing of two-plus innings this season. He totaled only five of that length the previous two seasons.

Nate Snead recorded the final six outs of the game, throwing just 27 pitches and securing the 6-1 victory to move Tennessee a win away from its second College World Series finals in program history.

The win over North Carolina was massive. Instead of needing three wins in three days to advance to the finals, the Vols get two cracks to win one game. With two days off and the strong showings from Beam, Connell and Snead, Tennessee’s pitching staff is now well equipped to meet the challenges ahead.

Tennessee is sitting pretty after two games and will be in even better shape if they win on Wednesday and flip its pitching over for final series of the season.

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